Don’t Judge An Adaptation By The Book

People always say the book was better. It’s ironed onto t-shirts on Etsy and plastered all over Pinterest. Anthropomorphized novels are urging you to buy and read them before you decide to see their cinematic counterparts acted out on the big screen.


We get it (really, that face says it all) because it’s a slippery slope and if people stop reading then maybe people will stop writing. I struggle, personally, because I really love both mediums—in some ways equally, although for different reasons.

The amount of film—both television and movies—out there that originated from literary works is pretty astounding, but the truth is, sometimes the book isn’t better. And that’s not (always) a bad thing.

That’s probably because literary adaptations aren’t meant to inspire the reader, they’re meant to inspire the director. We simply get to enjoy the fruits of their labor and vision.

Below are just a few adaptations that, perhaps, prove the book isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s just different.

Game of Thrones

Even book purists have admitted that while Martin’s books are packed full of history and some pretty amazing characters and plot lines, the HBO show has, quite possibly, done a better job at telling this story. While the show has made slight changes from the start, Season 5 is going far, far off the books, changing the story lines of some characters completely and ditching new characters that appear later in Martin’s series.

SPOILER ALERT! Sansa’s story, for instance, has been changed drastically. Instead of wandering through the Vale with her cousin, she is off to Winterfell. In the books, Jeyne Poole’s character (who we’ll never meet) travels to Sansa’s former home instead.

But these changes make the show arguably less “boring” for viewers and help push the story forward. With a cast list that’s already quite lengthy, the show expects a lot from viewers with increasingly busy lives (they’re doing us a favor, really). And because the characters from the book—even the ones who are cut—are still serving as the inspiration, book readers may come to appreciate the changes. Some already have.

Stand By Me

This movie was an instant classic—four boys walking the railroad tracks in search of the body of a missing boy. Yet, the story was originally contained within the pages of Stephen King’s short story “The Body,” a story that isn’t as frequently associated with King’s name as, say, Carrie or The Shining.

It’s a 1986 coming-of-age story, but the film has a timeless quality with some amazing performances. Incidentally, “The Body” was in King’s anthology Different Seasons which also contained “The Shawshank Redemption” (an equally stellar adaptation).


Drive, the movie, is based on the 2005 book Drive by James Sallis. The film takes advantage of the medium, letting meaningful looks and long silences do the talking instead of dialogue. Minor characters in the novel, like Shannon and Irene (Driver’s love interest), are given larger roles in the film, and these characters help provide more depth and connection to the events that unfold.

Plus, there’s Ryan Gosling. Need I say more?

Mean Girls

Mean Girls was a staple of my teenage years. It demonstrates how cut throat teenage girls can be to each other, while helping women laugh at it all a bit. Originally though, Mean Girls wasn’t Mean Girls at all, it was Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World, a book written by Rosalind Wiseman to help parents understand their daughter’s friendships and conflict.

Tina Fey turned it into comic genius (yes, I’m going that far).

“I want my pink shirt back!”

Interview with the Vampire

Rice’s 1976 novel was published during a time when sparkling vampires hadn’t taken over the world, and while it went on to have a series of highly popular sequels, Interview with the Vampire received mixed reviews upon publication. Many of the negative reviews believed the book to be nothing more than eroticism. When Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were cast in the film, Rice was vehemently opposed to the decision, but after seeing the finished product, she had a change of heart.

The Devil Wears Prada

Oh, I could watch this film forever. Meryl Streep delivers a powerful performance as Miranda Priestly (based on real-life Vogue editor Anna Wintour), a performance that snagged her several nominations, including a Golden Globe. The 2003 novel by Lauren Weisberger, however, did not receive as favorable reviews by everyone. Mainly, readers felt that Andrea Sachs was ungrateful, not fully appreciating the opportunity she had stumbled upon at Vogue.

The movie made up for this with some top-notch performances from Streep and actresses Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt. It was fun and entertaining.

If you’re on the look out for more great adaptations, the list goes on much further. A few of my other favorites (it’s a wide range) are Mrs. Doubtfire, Mystic River, The Graduate, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Forrest Gump, Psycho, Jurassic Park, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Mist.

Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor in Chief at The Poetics Project. Having earned a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and gained experience as an in-house editor, she now works as a freelance editor and writer. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

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  1. ThePandaBard

    Fight Club is an interesting example that goes along these same lines. Chuck P. even said he liked the movie more than the book because the love thread, between the Narrator and Maria. I love both the movie and the book, but it is interesting that the author says he liked the movie more.

    Thank You For Smoking is another great book/adaptation. The movie goes in a completely different direction with the characters, though, but, despite the difference in story line, the characters are perfectly represented in film. Again, I like both the movie and the book in this case.

    Good adaptations can be great – even if they change the source material.

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